Old warehouses becoming apartments, restaurants in downtown Newport News

By Josh Reyes

Daily Press • Aug 20, 2020 at 9:00 am

Newport News — The warehouses along 23rd Street in downtown Newport News have been used to store and process meat, produce, car parts and many other items over the last hundred years.

The next life for those warehouses, built in 1906, involves apartments, restaurants and a brewery, and the developers are embracing the buildings’ past.

Walking through one of the former warehouses — temporarily a storage area for lumber and building materials — Jonathan Provost, president of Norfolk-based Provost Construction, pointed out a wooden pillar that looked to be victim of a novice lumberjack or someone throwing axes.

Provost, the developer and one of the building owners, said that long ago, the warehouse was connected to a rail line and brought in meat that was butchered on site. As the butchers worked, they hacked their cleavers into the wood to store the tools or to free up their hands, Provost said. The pillars are still structurally solid, he said, and will remain visible in the future units, perhaps making a good conversation starter.

Most of the interior doesn’t have that type of wear and tear, but the 32 apartment units and three business spaces will have plenty of touches from the original structure. The top-floor apartments have exposed wood beams, and wooden pillars hold up ceilings in many rooms. Most of the wood floors are original to the building and all the units feature exposed brick. The elevator shafts will be covered, but the metal grate doors will be repurposed into accent pieces, and the elevator cables will be used to hang chandeliers.

The developers used historic restoration tax credits to help with financing the project, and those credits required the developers to keep many of the features in the buildings. Gene Provost, Jonathan Provost’s father and the superintendent of the construction, said that meant each of the units would have its own “little flair.” He said the project required little structural work beyond replacing some sections of floor and adding new walls.

The elder provost worked construction for decades as a side job while he was a police officer. He retired less than a year ago and shifted to working at Provost Construction full-time. He said he has experience working on apartments and older buildings, but the younger Provost said this project was a bit of a shift for him. Most of Provost Construction’s portfolio is made up of retail-focused work, including Urban Outfitters and Circuit Social in Norfolk.

The Provosts, who own the three buildings with other family members, said they hope to have the first restaurant unit and apartments done and ready for tenants this fall and the rest of the work done in the spring.

Next door, Coastal Fermentory is nearing completion at 206 23rd St. in a former warehouse — one that used to store beer — and is expected to open in the fall. The building, which Jonathan Provost owns, will contain some Provost Construction offices. One building over is Ironclad Distillery, which was similarly renovated in recent years.

Newport News envisions 23rd Street functioning as a “restaurant row” in downtown and is exploring lighting and other amenities to make the strip more attractive. Once it’s safe to do so, city officials hope to use space there and at City Hall across the street for outdoor events to help bring more people to downtown for reasons beyond work or needing to visit one of the government buildings.

While downtown isn’t home to many businesses, Jonathan Provost and the Coastal Fermentory owners are confident there is a demand for dining and drinking options.

On weekdays, thousands of employees of Newport News Shipbuilding and the city government stream to and from their jobs in the area. Many sit in traffic when it’s time to go home. Those developing businesses on 23rd Street are betting that some of those people would choose to grab a drink or something to eat rather than wait in line to get on the interstate.

Jonathan Provost thinks the apartments will appeal to shipyard employees who may prefer to walk to work. Most of the units are one-bedroom, close to 1,000 square feet and will have flexible lease options. Rent will be about $1,200.

Josh Reyes, 757-247-4692, [email protected]

Gene Provost, of Provost Construction, walks inside of a warehouse along 23rd Street that is being renovated into apartments retail space in Newport News Wednesday August 19, 2020. (Jonathon Gruenke/Daily Press)

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